Genealogy Trails logo

Ogle County, Illinois
Prairie Pirates

Transcribed for Genealogy Trails by Colette Jensen

Page 350 (bottom)

PRAIRIE PIRATES
In the proceeding pages of this book frequent reference is made to the outrages of a combination of outlaws - horse thieves, counterfeiters and murderers - that fastened themselves upon the country of the Rock River Valley about the year 1835. About the confines of American civilization there has always hovered, like scouts before the march of an invading army, a swarm of bold, enterprising, adventurous criminals. The broad, untrodden prairies, the trackless forests, the rivers, unbroken by the keels of commerce, furnished admirable refuge for those whose crimes drove them from companionship with the honest and law-abiding. However there, where courts and civil process could afford but a weak bulwark of protection against their evil and dishonest purposes and practices, the temptation to prey upon the comparatively unprotected sons of toil, rather than to gain a livelihood by the slow process of peaceful industry, has proven too strong to be resisted. Some of these reckless characters sought the outskirts of advancing settlements for the express purpose of theft and robbery; some, because they dare not remain within the reach of efficient laws; others, of limited means, but ambitious to secure homes of their own, and with honesty of purpose, exchanged the comforts and protection of law afforded by the old settled and populous districts for life on the frontiers, and not finding all that their fancy painted, were tempted into crime by apparent immunity from punishment. In all new countries the proportion of the dishonest and criminal has been greater than in the older and better regulated communities where courts are permanently established and the avenues of escape from punishment for wrong-doing more

Page 351

securely guarded. This was notable and particularly the case in the early settlement of Ogle and adjoining counties.
At the time of which we write, and for a number of years afterwards, a strong and well organized band of desperadoes held almost undisputed and unobstructed dominion throughout this whole region of the country, and very few of the honest settlers were fortunate enough to preserve all their property from being swept into the meshes of the net-work these land pirates had spread around them. Good horses and their equipments were the most easily captured and most readily concealed, and consequently the most coveted by the outlaws, as well as the most unsafe property the settlers could hold. Owners of fast or really good horses never presumed to leave them unguarded for a single night, unless the stable was doubly locked and barred, and a faithful dog either left within the stable or at the stable door: and often times the owners would sleep in the stable with their trusty rifles by their side, while no man ever thought of going to his stable or his woodpile after nightfall without his gun.
The leaders of this gang of cut throats were among the first settlers of the country, and as a consequence, had the choice of locations. Among the most prominent and daring of the number were John Driscoll, William and David Driscoll, his sons John Brodie and three of his sons, John. Stephen and Hugh, Samuel Aikens and three sons, Richard, Charles and Thomas; William K. Bridge and Norton B. Royce.
These men were the representative characters of the gang - the executive managers who planned, guided, directed and controlled the movements of the combination: concealed them when danger threatened; nursed them when sick: rested them when worn down by fatigue and forced marches; furnished hiding - places for their stolen booty; shared in the spoils and proceeds, and under cover of darkness, and intricate and devious ways of travel, known only to themselves and subordinates, transferred stolen horses from station to station - for it came to be known as a well - established fact that they had stations, and agents, and watchmen scattered throughout the country at convenient distances, and signals and pass - words to assist and govern them in all their nefarious transactions.
The operations of the gang extended from one end of the country to the other - from Texas, up through the Indian Territory, Arkansas, Missouri and Illinois, to Wisconsin; from the Old River, at Pittsburgh, through the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa, to the Missouri River - as far as civilization extended. Their hands and depredations were directed against society everywhere, and they preyed upon the substance of honest toilers, merchants and business men, with reckless and daring impunity, sparing no one who was not in some way allied with their murder - stained combination.
Besides the names quoted as local members and chiefs of the robber confederacy, there were many others of less prominence - tools and aids-de-camp - ready subordinates of the commander - and - chiefs, but all the more dangerous because of their slavery to the men that governed and the oaths that bound them together, and by which their lives were held in forfeit when they failed to obey the commands of their superiors in power.
John Driscoll, who was recognized by the most honest settlers as the general - in - chief of the plundering band, came from Ohio in 1835, and settled on Killbuck Creek, in Monroe Township. It has been said that he named that creek in honor of a stream bearing the same name in the Ohio

Page 352

country in which he lived. And it is further said that when he came here he came directly from the penitentiary at Columbus, to which prison he had been sentenced for a number of years for some crime committed against the laws of the state. It has also been said that he escaped from that penitentiary some eighteen months before his term of sentence expired, so that he was in no sense a pardoned citizen or a "ticket - of - leaveman" but an escaped convict. In many respects old John Driscoll is reported to have been a most remarkable man, both in physique, intellect, coolness and courage. One who knew him wee, and who participated in his execution, thus describe him as he stood in the presence of five hundred outraged and indignant people on the day of his summary execution, Tuesday, June 29, 1841.
"He was upward of six feet in height, slightly inclined to corpulency, and would have weighed about two hundred pounds. He was all muscle and sinew, and every way the most powerful built man in all that crowd of half a thousand men. His face was the only repulsive feature about old John Driscoll, and his repulsiveness was occasioned by the loss of a part of his nose, which had been bitten off some years before in a fight with some human ghouls. His hair was iron gray and course; his eyebrow heavy and shaggy like, and his face smooth, from recent shaving. Untrembling and unmoved, he stood motionless in the midst of his inquisitors and executioners. He was not a ignorant man, nor void of generosity or charity. There were many kind acts passed to his credit in the neighborhood where he lived. In one instance he and his sons finished plowing and planting a field of corn for a wife and mother whose husband had died in the mist of the planting season. He might have been useful and an influential citizen in any community, but he chose otherwise, and became an outlaw and a renegade to all the better instincts of human nature."
William Driscoll settled at South Grove, DeKalb County. Next to the old man, William Driscoll was considered the worst and most desperate of the family - sly, secretive, cunning and revengeful. He was unlettered and uneducated, but possessed of strong native sense. At the time of his execution, June 29, 1841, he was about forty-five years of age, rather above the average height of men, of heavy build and very muscular, and would probably tipped the scale at one hundred and eighty pounds. His features were firm and presented a peculiarly heavy appearance. He was that type of man that could face any ordinary danger without the least fear. But in the presence of five hundred resolute men, determined to hold him to account for his manifold crimes, he was awed into the most terrible fear, and every lineament of his face showed evidence of inward torture.
David Driscoll settled a short distance east of the old village site of Lynnville, in what is now Lynnville Township. He was a man of very reserved character, cold, calculating, devilish, malicious and fearless, and in every sense a "Ship off the old block."
John Brodie settled in a grove of timber in what is now Dement Township. The grove still bears his name, from the fact of his being the first settler in that immediate locality. He came there from Franklin County, Ohio, and was apparently about fifty-five years of age when he built his cabin. In physique he was rather under medium size, with very a very low forehead; stiff black hair; small black eyes set deep in his head, and in every particular had a very repulsive look. His three

Page 353

sons, John, Stephen and Hugh, were all nomadic, rambling, unsettled natures, practices and habits, reckless and indifferent to all social amenities, and void of every shadow of respect for the marital relations. They were accounted dare - devils generally, and were both feared and despised.
Old man Samuel Aikens said his son Charles settled at Washington Grove; his other two sons, Thomas and Richard, at Lafayette Grove, scarcely half a mile distant. When his family first settled here they were regarded as rather good men, and the father and younger son, Samuel (whose name has not been mentioned before), always maintained that regard. When speculation in claims became the ruling passion, they all joined the frenzied mob, and invested heavily, expecting to realize handsome returns. But the wheel of fortune suddenly reversed its motion, and they lost heavily. They were men of considerable wealth and influence, and when they became victims of the claim speculating mania, they carried with them a number of their neighbors and acquaintances - men that regarded the old man Aikens with respectful consideration, and in whose thrift and ken they had every confidence. When the Aikens failed they all failed, for the old man had been their counselor and advisor. So, when fortune, the fickle jade, deserted them and left them high and dry on the shoals of adversity, the three sons, Charles, Thomas and Richard, became reckless, and finally identified themselves with the outlaws - if not directly, at least indirectly, and their houses and barns became places of concealment for such of the gang as needed for concealment.
William K. Bridge also settled at Washington Grove. In stature he stood about six feet, and in every way was well proportioned. "Indeed," said one of his old neighbors, with whom the writer conversed. "He was a model man in physical development, and one that would be singled out of a thousand because of his fine, athletic proportions. In form he was an Adonis. Besides, his face was handsome, and his bearing every way that of a gentlemen. His conversational powers were good. He had an oily tongue, and could 'soft soap' any of us, notwithstanding we knew he was well one of the gang. As is sometimes said of counterfeit bills, 'he was well calculated to deceive.' He would have made a noted lawyer, if he had turned his attention to that profession, or a good preacher, if there had been room in his heart and soul for the indwelling of the Holy Ghost; but the demon of darkness took possession of his nature before he was born, and grew with his growth and strengthened with his strength, until at last he was sent out here as a special agent of the devil, to deceive and prey upon the honest settlers who were struggling for homes. By his immediate neighbors he was accounted a model of rectitude, charity and kindness. He was a Pennsylvanian by birth, and had the advantages of a liberal education; had mingled a good deal in society, knew the meaning of words, and how and when to use them. He was always on his guard. He never allowed himself to be betrayed by either word or gesture. Why, he would always find out just what we were hunting after without letting us know what he was 'fishing for.' We couldn't help it. He was the serpent and we were the victims." Such is the personal and characteristics of William K. Bridge, who was finally brought to bay and sentenced to the penitentiary for eight years, barely escaping the scaffold.
Norton B. Royce came from Delaware County, Ohio, and settled at Lafayette Grove. He too, was a keen, shrewd, sharp, cunning fellow, and every way suited to fill any situation in life, but to
Page 354

lazy and indolent to engage in honest toil or any of the professions, he turned his attention to counterfeiting and was generally believed to be the principal director of the pirates' mint. At last, however, like the others, his villainy was unmasked and he, too, was sent to the penitentiary.
Such is a brief outline of the characters of the gang who were so intimately connected with the transactions of the men thus far named, that this sketch would be incomplete without reference to them and their complicity.
Charles Oliver was such a man as Bridge and Royce. He settled at Rockford in 1836, and made his home at the old Rockford House, where, among the boarders and citizens, he freely mingled, unsuspected of unlawful pursuits. He possessed a good education, fine conversational powers, a fund of humor, a rich store of anecdotes and stories, and came to be almost universally respected. He was a man of some means, his father having started him out in the world with $4,000.00 in cash, a part of which he invested in claim property and improvements near Rockford. About 1837 there was an election for justice of the peace at Rockford, and Charles Oliver was chosen as a candidate on the one side, and James B. Martyn, now of Bellvidere, Boone County, a candidate on the other side. The election was closely contested. The polls were kept open until 10 o'clock at night, and every man known to be entitled to a vote was hunted out and taken to the voting place and made to vote for one or the other of the candidates. Oliver was beaten by only a few votes. A few years afterwards he was sent to the penitentiary, his crimes extending back and covering the period when he came so near being elected a justice of the peace.
South, at Inlet grove, in what is now Lee County, another part of the gang had a habitation, and of whom it is necessary to make mention.
About 1835 or 1836, there came to that place, Adolphus Bliss and family, and two other men named Corydon Dewey and Charles West. The names of bliss, Dewey and West appear frequently in the early records of the county as grand and petit jurors, justices of the peace, constables, etc., which will afford the younger generation and new comers to Ogle County some idea of the prominence attained and influence exerted by the unlawful and crime - stained combination.
These three families were the first settlers at Inlet Grove, and from the close intimacy that existed between them, they may have come to be known to the later settlers as "Bliss, Dewey, West & Co." They had each settled on government land, and to the casual passer-by seemed to be intent on making farms and earning an honest living. But time and events proved otherwise. Bliss had built a log house, which was known all along the Rock River Valley as the "Log Tavern". On a board in front of the house, painted in large black letters, was this inscription: "Travelers' Home." To many a land hunter in those days that the sign was a welcome sight, and many a family and individual sojourned there longer than they would have done had they known the true character of the proprietors. Later events showed that this "Log Tavern" was a rendezvous for counterfeiters, or, at least, a distributing point for their currency and coin, especially the latter. Making change is quite a business in its way with hotel keepers, and, as most people know, change is sometimes hard to get, but "mine host" of the "Travelers' Home" was never "short" for he had the means of making

Page 355

the supply equal the demand. When the villainy of the clan began to be unmasked, it was shown that no less than five sets of bogus died were kept sewn up in one of the feather beds with which the "Home" was supplied. Dewey was Bliss' nearest neighbor on the one hand, and West on the other, the last of whom eventually turned traitor, and revealed the secrets of "Bliss, Dewey, West & Co." as well as of the gang with whom they operated. As settlements in that neighborhood increased, Dewey was elected Justice of the peace, and West was chosen constable. Whenever their funds began to run low, all that was necessary to replenish their exchequer was to call on the "keeper of the seals" and officially demand the dies, and their demands were never registered - for such resistance would have been a criminal breach of the law! Whenever an attempt was made to arrest the villain, Justice Dewey would inform his comrades of the facts, then issue a warrant and place it in the hands of Constable West for service, who, knowing in what direction the outlaw had gone, would start out in hot haste in a directly opposite direction, and, of course, always returned his warrants endorsed "not found". For years, the firm of "Bliss, Dewey, West & Co. " boldly prosecuted this kind of business. At last, however, their true characters were unmasked, and Bliss and Dewey were arrested, tried convicted and sent to the state's prison at Alton - West appearing against them as a witness on the part of the people.
These personal references are necessary for clear understanding of the historical events to follow - events that give the Rock River country a national notoriety, and which ended in the arraignment and trial under one indictment and before one jury, one of the greatest number of men ever presented together before a judicial tribunal.
With an unlawful combination made up of such characters, and scattered about in different parts of the country and with members enough to control the election of justices of the peace and other local officers, to influence and break the force and power of juries, it is no wonder the honest, toiling, struggling pioneer settlers came to live in a continued state of terror - a terror that brooded over them from about 1836-37, until the gang was broken up and dispersed in 1845. For a period of one year after killing of the Driscolls, the people of Oregon City never went to sleep until the citizen sentries had gone on duty. So bold and daring had the outlaws become, that the honest people were forced, as a matter of self-protection, to organize themselves for night patrol duty - taking turns every other night. And even then, they felt unsafe, for no one knew he hour when the night-watch would be overpowered, and a general butchery of the citizens - men, women and children - indiscriminately commence.
These Prairie Pirates were well organized, and had well defined lines of travel throughout all the country which they operated. Extending west from the Ohio River at Pittsburgh on the east, to the Missouri River on the west, from different points in the south and southwest, up into Wisconsin, to the lakes and to Michigan, there were lines of horse thieves, along which stole horses and continually passing and repassing. These lines were supplied with convenient stations, and the stations were in charge of men, who, to all outward appearances, were honest, hard working settlers. Under this arrangement a horse stolen at either end of the line, or anywhere in its vicinity in the interior, for that matter, could be passed from one agent to another, and no one of the agents be absent from his home or business for more than a few hours at a time, and thus, for years, remain unsuspected. But their operations grew bolder and bolder. Horse after horse was stolen and spirited away, no one knew where or how; robbery after robbery occurred throughout the country; every once in awhile a mangles corpse would be found in some uninhabited wood; counterfeit money flooded the country, but no clue to the authors of these crimes could be obtained. Ogle County, particularly, seemed to be a favorite and chosen field for the operations of these outlaws, but they extended into Winnebago and other counties as well. At last they became to common for longer endurance. Patience ceased to be a virtue; and hope that such things would die out as the country advanced in population and improvements, grew sick, and determined desperation seized upon the minds of honest men, and they resolved if there were no statute laws that would protect them against the ravages of thieves, robbers and counterfeiters, they would protect themselves. It was a desperate resolve, and desperately and bloodily executed.
Up to 1841 no decisive measures had been inaugurated to rid the country of the presence of the villains that had apparent control of everything. The laws could not be enforced with any degree of efficiency. If arrested, tried and found sufficiently guilty to hold them to bail (in bailable offenses) there were no jails sufficiently secure to hold them; and even if there had been, there were members of the gang abundantly able to offer any amount of bail required. Witnesses were always present to provide an alibi, and thus it came about that the ranks of the prairie pirates were never thinned out by law process.
In April of this year, however, fifteen honest, sturdy, fearless and determined men who had been victims to the predatory raids of the outlaws, held a meeting in a log school house at White Rock, for consultation. These fifteen men represented a large district of country upon which the gang had so long preyed unmolested. Some of them were native born Americans - some were Canadians, and some were Scotchmen, but all were resolute and determined. That meeting, after fully and carefully reviewing the situation and the repeated outrages to which the community had been subjected, and recognizing the fact, as it seemed to them, that law, justice and its executives were inadequate to the protection of the people and the arrest and punishment of the outlaws, they entered into a solemn compact with each other to rid the country of the desperadoes by which it was infested. The course resolved upon was to visit every known or suspected person, and notify them to leave the country within a given length of time, and if they did not comply, they would be summarily and severely dealt with - stripped and lashed until they would promise to comply with the decision and demands of the "Regulators". To the accomplishment of this work the Ogle County Regulators solemnly pledged themselves or to die in the attempt. The work was soon commenced. From fifteen, their numbers soon increased to scores and hundreds. The first victim was a man named John Hurl, who had been charged with being instrumental in having his neighbor's horse stolen. He was taken out of his house and ordered to strip which he obeyed. His hands were tied behind his back, when he was given thirty-six lashes with a raw hide, well applied, the blood following every stroke. He stood the ordeal, said an eye witness, without flinching, and when the terrible work was ended, he remarked: "Now, as your rage is satisfied, and to prove that I am an honest man, I will join your company." He became a member of the Regulators, although it was almost certainly known that before his castigation his life had not been one of irreproachable honesty.
Their next victim was a man named Daggett, who had once been a Baptist preacher in the East. But had fallen from his high estate. Daggett was charged with being an accessory to the stealing of three or four horses from the neighborhood of Rockford belonging to man named Fish. He was taken into custody, tried by the rules adopted by the Regulators, found guilty and sentenced to receive five hundred lashes on his bare back. He was stripped for the ordeal, and every preparation made to execute the sentence, but before a blow was struck, his daughter, aged about sixteen years, of very prepossessing appearance, rushed frantically into the midst of the men, begging for mercy for her father. Her agonized appeals, together with the solemn promise of Daggett that he would leave the country immediately, and the influence of one or two of the representative men of the Regulators, secured a remission of the sentence, and he was left without the infliction of a single lash, The company, numbering one hundred men, then dispersed to their homes, and thus ended the first days work of the Regulators. About two o'clock that night, however, Phineas Chaney, a prominent and influential member of the Vigilantes, was called from his bed by the presence of a number of the Regulators, who informed him they had found Fish, the owner of the horses Daggett was charged with having spirited away, and that they wanted to go back to Daggett's, take him out and whip him until he confessed to the crime. Chaney opposed the scheme on the grounds that they had once tried Daggett, and entered into a solemn agreement with him to spare punishment which was no doubt just, but to go back there and carry out the proposed purpose of his midnight visitors, before Daggett had time to make the least preparation toward keeping his part of the contract, would be dishonorable and unmanly, and that he would in no wise countenance or encourage such proceeding. Exacting a promise from Mr. Chaney that he would not oppose them, the company proceeded to Daggetts house, took him from his bed, and to a distance of two miles from his cabin, tied him to a Burr Oak tree, and gave him ninety-six lashes, well laid on. During the infliction of this terrible flagellation, Daggett confessed (as was reported) that he helped steal the horses, but protested to the last that he did not know where they were - that they were passed beyond his knowledge. After the whipping he was released from his cords and allowed to go at will. The next morning Daggett was reported to have left the county for Indiana, whither his family soon after followed him. Whether he really left that morning, or found concealment with some of the fraternity to which he belonged, was never certainly known, but it is a fact that he was never afterwards seen in the country.
Once started, the organization spread, and soon extended into Boone, DeKalb, McHenry and Winnebago Counties, and, had a red flag been hoisted during the night over every house the inmates of which sympathized with the Regulators, the people, when they awoke, would have supposed the whole county ha small - pox. The friends and comrades of the men who had been whipped and ordered to leave the county were fearfully enraged, and swore eternal and bloody vengeance. Eighty of them assembled one night soon after in the barns of Aikens and Bridge - first in one of the barns , and then adjourned to the other - where their plans were laid and preparations made to visit White Rock and murder every man, woman and child in the hamlet. That they absolutely started on that bloody mission was positively known, but on the way they were met by another member of the gang, a little cooler headed that the masses, and, learning the the terrible objective of their raid, he implored them to desist from the undertaking, and was finally successful in prevailing upon them to disperse to their homes. The plans, however, of the desperadoes having been overheard, and intelligence of the threatened massacre carried to White Rock, preparations were at once made by the people to defend their homes and their lives as dearly as the emergency of the occasion required. Armed with rifles, shot guns, pistols, pitchforks, anything and everything that could be made available as weapons of defense - nearly one hundred of the settlers of White Rock, including every boy who was old enough and big enough to handle one of the weapons named, met together and took up a position in the lane dividing the premises of T. O. Young and J. Sanford, and prepared to receive the threatened attack. The fences were torn down and a barricade erected across the lane. Rails were piled on the cross fence with one end resting on the ground on the side towards the defending settlers, with the other end projecting outward in the direction from which the murderous crew must come, thus forming a kind of abates protection. Fortunately, the pirates reconsidered their purpose, and their threat was not executed.
Within a short time after the Regulators commenced their work of extermination, as previously mentioned, and about the time the piratical clan had sworn vengeance against the people of White Rock, Mr. W. S. Wellington, who had been chosen as the first captain of the Regulators, resigned and John Campbell, a Scotchman and a devout Presbyterian, was chosen as his successor. Within two weeks after his election, he received a letter from William Driscoll filled with the most direful threats - not only threatening Campbell's life, but the life of everyone who dared to oppose their murderous, thieving operations. The only effect of this letter was to add fresh fuel to the already kindled flame, and in directing the rage of the entire community against the Driscolls. Soon after the receipt of this letter by Mr. Campbell, one hundred and ninety six of the Regulators assembled together and marched to the residence of the Driscolls, in South Grove. On approaching the place, they discovered a number of ruffians armed to the teeth, as if inviting the attack. When within a half mile of the house, they halted to complete arrangements for the assault. There is was determined that one of the number should go forward and beard the lion in his den. While preparing to draw lots as to who should undertake this death ride a young man, who afterwards became one of Rockford's best known citizens, volunteered to undertake the mission, and immediately started. As he neared the house, the door flew open, and nearly a score of ruffians, all armed with pistols, dashed out and made for the woods. The old man Driscoll mounted a fast horse and was soon beyond pursuit. One man remained behind, and he informed the two hundred determined men that Driscoll had gone to Sycamore to muster his forces, and that they would return in two hours to fight them. Nothing haunted, the Regulators dismounted and threw themselves upon the ground to await the coming of Driscolls mob.
At three o'clock in the afternoon Driscoll returned, but instead of bringing his threatened company of confederates, he brought Sheriff Walrodd, Squire Mayo, and the Probate Judge. Lovell, of De Kalb County. These gentlemen inquired the nature of the strange gathering, in reply to which Mr. Campbell, as leader of the citizens, made a decided and effective answer, every word of which fell with powerful force against Driscoll and his confederates. He not only told why they were there, and for what purpose they had come, but what they intended to do. He told of crimes the Driscoll's committed - how William Driscoll and another man had robbed Waterman's store at Newburg, Boone County, and secreted the plunder in a hiding place in Hickory Grove, and that in a day or two afterwards Driscoll had gone in the dead hour of night and stolen the goods from his confederate, thereby "making himself the meanest thief on the face of God's earth." The Driscolls stood by livid with rage and gnashed their teeth as Campbell told of their dark deeds.
When Campbell had finished, the three gentlemen from De Kalb, who had come over with Driscoll, abandoned them, and told the Regulators that any time they needed help to carry out their purpose to call on Sycamore, from whence they could rely on at least one hundred good and willing men.
The Driscolls were then notified to leave the state, and were allowed to name the date they would depart. They fixed the time at twenty days. Soon after the citizens dispersed to their homes.
The Driscolls did not leave the country, nor did they make preparations to leave. On the contrary, they continued in their evil ways, and if possible became bolder and more defiant than ever, notwithstanding they made the most solemn protestations that they were making arrangements to quit the country.
In less than ten days after the events narrated above, a meeting of the outlaws and desperadoes was held on the farm of William Bridge, at Washington Grove, where the murder of Campbell and Chaney was planned, and David and Taylor Driscoll detailed to the murder of Campbell. They were sworn to waylay Campbell, and not leave him until he was a corpse.
It was never certainly known, who of the gang were detailed to murder Chaney, but it is known that on Friday night, June 25, 1841, his intended and designated assassin visited his premises in the dead hour of night. Chaney had two ferocious dogs, who "treed" them in his corn cribs, where they remained until nearly daylight, when they managed to quiet the dogs, and got away under cover of the same darkness that concealed their murderous comings. During the alarm created by his dogs, Chaney got up from his bed, and started out to see what was wrong, but taking a second thought and remembering that his murder had been threatened, he returned to his bed, and thus saved his life. His murder, however, was reported the next morning at school by Hettie, the little daughter of Bridge. Her story was this: She slept in a trundle bed which was drawn out from beneath the bed occupied b her father and mother. In the morning just before daylight, she overheard her father telling her mother that "Chaney was killed last night by some men that had been sent to do that work." This statement of his child, too young and innocent to manufacture the statement, or to know the part her father bore towards the murderous banditti, left no reason for the settlers to doubt that Bridge knew all about the scheme, the time fixed and the names of the cut-throats set to carry out that part of the sworn vengeance of the infamous and cowardly combinations.
Sunday, June 27, 1841, the two Driscolls - David and Taylor - who had been appointed and sworn to murder John Campbell, accomplished the atrocious and bloody purpose. Saturday the 26th, Mr. Campbell had gone to Rockford, where he remained over night, returning to his home, in White Rock, about noon n Sunday. In the afternoon he and his family went to church at the school-house one mile west of his residence, from which service they returned between five and six o'clock. After supper Campbell lay down on a lounge to rest. About sundown, he arose, went out of the house and started towards the barn, which stood across a lane from his house. In the lane, and a little south of the crossing between the barn and the house, there was a copse or "bunch" of hazel brush, which, in full leaf, was thick enough to hide his murderers. As he stepped through the gate from the door yard into the lane, his assassins rose p from behind the bunch of hazels and remarked "We want to go to the burnt mill,* but have lost our way." Before Campbell could answer, David Driscoll raised his gun, and aiming it at the object of their wrath and sworn vengeance, shot him through the heart. After he was shot, Campbell re-entered the gate, and, blinded by approaching death, turned a little to the southeast, and fell a lifeless corpse fourteen feet from the gate. The Driscolls had kept their oath.

*The mill here referred to had belonged to John Long, who had taken an active part against the gang,
and in revenge it is supposed some of them had burned his mill. The same night the mill was burned, the incendiaries broke all the legs of the only horse Mr. Long owned, and which he used to ride between his residence and mill, which were situated about one mile apart. After that occurrence, Mr. Long was rather reticent and indifferent towards the wretches - seemingly awed into submission and silence.

After the shooting, the murderers turned and started in a southeast direction, leaving the house a little to their left. As Campbell fell, his wife ran to him, and as she reached his lifeless remains, she called after the fleeing scoundrels, "Driscolls, you have murdered John Campbell." As Mrs. Campbell uttered this exclamation, the murderers made a temporary halt, and Taylor Driscoll raised his rifle and pointed it towards her, but lowered it without firing, and the two resumed their retreat from the scent of blood. In the meantime, Martin Campbell, aged about thirteen years, son of the victim, seized a double barreled shot gun and running around the house, aiming at the fleeing murderers, pulled the trigger, but both caps snapped. The gun was double charged with buckshot, but having been loaded for some time and exposed to damp and wet, failed to go off, and thus the murderers both got away.
News of the murder spread like wildfire. Indignation against the Driscolls was aroused to fever heat. On Monday, the 28th, the remains of Campbell were buried. After the funeral, the excitement and indignation against the perpetrators and instigators of the bloody crime broke out afresh. The very air was filled with threats of vengeance against them, and nothing but the lives of the murderous gang would pay the penalty. News of the terrible crime had been carried to Sycamore, Oregon and Rockford, and help in the work of extermination demanded, and it was given. Monday afternoon Rockford was more like a deserted village, than a bustling, busy little town. Every man that could go, went - all determined to avenge Campbell's death.
A little after sunrise on Monday morning after the murder, old John Driscoll was arrested by the Ogle County sheriff and posse comitatus at the house of his son David, near Lynnville, and during the day he was taken to jail at Oregon City.
As soon as it was sufficiently light on Monday morning, the friends and neighbors of Campbell began to look around for some evidences that would help them trace the murderers, believing that while David and Taylor Driscoll had perpetrated the bloody work, accessories were nearby to offer their assistance in case they were foiled in their undertaking, and likely to be overpowered. They pretty soon came on what seemed to be the tracks of five horses pointing in the direction of David Driscoll's. One of these tracks was marked by a part (two nails in the cork) of a horse-shoe. This trial was taken up and followed to David Driscoll's stable. While part of the men went to the house and entered it, another part went into the stable, where they found an animal that seemed to have been hardly ridden, and still covered with hard dry sweat. An examination of the feet of this animal discovered a part of a shoe that corresponded exactly with the tracks discovered at Campbell's, and which had been followed a distance of seven miles, to where the animal was found. This was considered strong circumstantial evidence, at last, and the next important step was to learn who had ridden the animal, and old man Driscoll, the only male member of the family present, was thus interrogated by one of the posse:
"Who rode that animal in the stable (describing it) this morning?"
"I rode it." Relied the old man, "from South Grove."
"Who rode it to South Grove last night?"
"I rode it there yesterday afternoon."
"Who rode it from near Campbell's place yesterday evening?"
To this last question the old man made no answer, and from that time forward, he maintained, a dogged, stubborn silence, only speaking when it was unavoidably necessary.
William T. Ward, the sheriff of Ogle County, when he found Driscoll would answer no more questions upon that point, spoke to him as follows:
"Driscoll, that broken horse shoe and the tracks it left, have placed you in a quandary from which you will find it difficult to extricate yourself, and I take you under arrest, in the name of the people of the State of Illinois, on suspicion of being accessory to the murder of John Campbell."
During the time thus occupied one of the female members of the Driscoll household (a daughter-in-law) remarked to some of the posse that the old man "was a bad and dangerous character, and that if he had received his just desserts, he would have been shot long ago."
Breakfast was soon served, and the old man was told to eat his breakfast and get ready to accompany the sheriff. He sat up to the table, but ate very sparingly, after which he was told to bid his wife (who was there) and the rest of the family "good-bye," as he might never see them again. Calmly, coolly, indifferently, and without feeling, as far as outward indications showed, he turned to his wife and said, "Take care of yourself, and do the best you can" - "only that, and nothing more," and then went out to his death.
William and Pierce Driscoll were arrested at their homes at South Grove, DeKalb County, on the afternoon of the same day by the Rockford men, and taken to the residence of John Campbell, and kept under guard over night. David and Taylor Driscoll, William K. Bridge, Richard and Thomas Aikens were also sought after, but were not found. They had escaped the vigilance of an outraged people, and fled, no one knew whither. Tuesday morning, the 29th, the people of White Rock, having heard that the citizens of Rockford had William and Pierce Driscoll prisoners at Campbell's,

Page 364

prepared for immediate and decided action, and while the settlers were gathering in force, three of their most trusted and determined men came to Oregon, and against the protestations of the sheriff and the admonitions and warnings of Judge Ford, took John Driscoll from the custody of the sheriff, hurried him across the river, and started towards Washington Grove via Daysville. At Daysville, a temporary halt was made, and there Obed Linsday and Phinneas Chaney took the old man aside to interrogate him in regard to his former life. He confessed to them that he had been a very bad man, and that he had done many unlawful and vicious things but that he had never committed murder. He admitted that he stolen, or caused to be stolen as many as fifty horses. The question was asked hi, if the number would not reach five hundred, which he answered by saying, "may be it might; I have lost count. I have paid out hundreds of dollars to young men for stealing horses from men against whom I have a grudge, and from which I never received a cent of profit. I paid these hundreds of dollars in small sums of from ten to twenty dollars each. I did not expect and profit from such expenditures, all I wanted was sweet revenge. I also did a great wrong towards Pierce, my son, whom I was the means of sending to the Ohio penitentiary. I had a grudge against a man that lives seven miles away, and determined to burn his barn. Pierce lived half way between my place and the man against whom I had this grudge. I went to Pierce's stable, in the dark hour of the night, took out his horse, rode to the barn, set it on fire, and returned the horse to the stable. The roads were muddy and the horse was easily tracked. The tracks lead to and from Pierce's stable, and he was arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to the penitentiary for three years, and served out his time." Pierce Driscoll subsequently confirmed this statement, which left no room to doubt the terribly depraved nature of his father.
At Daysville the crows had increased to about one hundred men. When Lindsay and Chaney had finished questioning their captive prisoner, the excited crowd moved on towards Washington Grove, where they arrived about ten o'clock, and were joined by the Rockford division with their prisoners, William and Pierce Driscoll. After the White Rock people crossed the river with old man Driscoll, an inch rope halter was taken from a horse's head and tied around his neck, and in this way he was taken to the place of execution. Neither one of the other prisoners were hampered by manacles of any kind.
When all parties had arrived at Washington Grove, as many as five hundred indignant and outraged citizens were present. Some from Winnebago, some from De Kalb, some from Lee, but the majority was made up from Ogle County. Almost all classes of citizens were present - farmers, mechanics, lawyers, preachers, doctors, justices of the peace, constables and sheriffs. Among the lawyers present, were E. S. Leland (since a prominent judge, and now living at Ottawa), W. W. Fuller, of Oregon; Jason Marsh and - Latimer, of Rockford. Leland was chosen as a general director of the proceedings to ensue. The Regulators were ordered to form a circle around a large black oak tree. One hundred and twenty of them thus formed, when Mr. Leland suggested that if there were any men in that circle that were objectionable, on any account, that challengers be selected to point them out and have them removed. Under this ruling, the number was reduced to one hundred and eleven men. Chairs were placed within the circle and occupied by the prisoners, justices of the

Page 365

peace, etc. The witnesses were sworn by one of the justices present, and the prisoners arraigned for trial. William Driscoll was arraigned first, and asked by Mr. Leland "if he had ever instructed his brother David to go to the Captain's (meaning Campbell) at twilight in the evening, pretend to be lost, call him out to inquire the way, and then shoot him down, as they did Iowa, on a certain occasion, and saying, "d__n them (the Regulators), they will all run then, as they did there?" The accused answered in positive language that he had not. Henry Hill, as worthy a man as ever lived in Ogle County, was then sworn and examined. He testified that he had heard William Driscoll give the accused the instructions just quoted, and named the time and the occasion. Driscoll's memory thus refreshed, he answered: "I remember now; I did use the language, but only did it in jest;" when Leland replied:
"Driscoll, you will find that jesting away good men's lives is a serious matter, and that it will not be tolerated in this community."
The evidence of Henry Hill, and others who corroborated him, was held as sufficient to establish his guilt, as accessory to the murder of John Campbell.
The old man Driscoll was next arraigned and similarly questioned. The broken horse-shoe track and other evidence which he could not explain away was submitted to the jury of "one hundred and eleven" men. The examination of witnesses was through. Both men were given fair and just opportunities to show their innocence, if they were innocent, as accessories to the murder of Campbell. Besides this, there were other crimes that had been traced to the hands of these men, and upon which they were also questioned. Failing to explain away the dark and damning circumstances that surrounded them - that pointed unerringly to their guilt participation in many well-specified crimes - they were held to answer.
The proceedings were conducted calmly, coolly, deliberately, but with a firmness and determination to free the country from the domination and presence of outlaws.
At last, when the examination of old John Driscoll was concluded, the question was put to the men forming the circle within which the prisoners had been tried:
"What say you, gentlemen, guilty or not guilty?"
"Guilty," was the unanimous response of the one hundred eleven men composing the jury before whom John and David Driscoll had been tried, and they were sentenced to be hanged.
When the sentenced was announced, the condemned men begged that the sentence be changed - that they might be shot to death, instead of being "hanged like dogs." A motion for a change of sentence was submitted to the men who had found them guilty and announced the penalty, and the request of the trembling wretches was granted with but a few dissenting voices.
At this point in the proceedings, the old man was allowed to go aside with Jason Marsh for consultation and confession. When the time granted for this consultation had expired, Marsh announced in a few words that Driscoll had no confession to make, and urge the urge the crowd not to be too hasty in the premises, and that time ne allowed the men to prepare for death. A respite of one hour was granted them for that purpose, which was prolonged for fully two hours. Two ministers, who were present, prayed with the condemned men, to one of whom, it is said, William Driscoll confessed that he had murdered no less than six men with his own hand. He prayed for forgiveness and became quite penitent. The old man was determined, and held out to the very end, without uttering even the simple prayer, "God have mercy on my soul."
At the expiration of the time granted, a few men began to clamor for a full remission of the sentence; some few others favored the plan of remanding them into custody of the law officers, and thus evade the responsibility they had taken upon themselves. In the midst of these clamors and suggestions, Latimer, for the people, made a vehement address, saying that nothing but blood would palliate the crimes that had been committed, that as long as the gang of outlaws were permitted to remain on the earth, no community would be safe from their depredations and crimes. The Driscoll's if not the head centres and authors and instigators of the untold robberies and murders that had been committed in the country, were at least accomplices, and had shared in the plunder. He maintained that the people were justified in taking the course they had, that their safety demanded it, that the murder of Campbell must be avenged, and that if the actual murderers could not be found, those who planned the foul deed must suffer in their stead, and concluded by urging the immediate execution of John Driscoll and his son William. Jason Marsh followed, briefly, in the same line of argument. These arguments had the effect of stilling the clamors of those were called the "weak-kneed", and to dispel from the minds of the prisoners all hopes of a stay of proceedings.
The men were formed in line, numbered, and divided into two death divisions, as nearly equal as the number would permit, fifty-five in one division and fifty-six in the other. One division was detailed to the execution of the old man, and the other to the execution of William. The old man was lead forth first; his eyes were bandaged, and he was made to kneel upon the earth. All things in readiness, the signal to fire was given, and the old man fell to the earth, riddled and shattered to pieces with the charges of fifty-six rifles.
William's fate came next. In the last hour, abject fear overcame his former boldness, and his hair turned almost white. In a semi-conscience condition he was lead forth, and in a few minutes his body was riddled by the discharges from the other fifty-five rifles, and lay bleeding and quivering by the side of his father.
Pierce Driscoll, who had been released from custody, was told that he would be permitted to take charge of the dead bodies of his father and that teams and help would be provided to convey them home and prepare them for burial, but the offer was declined with the declaration that he would have nothing to do with it. Spades and shovels were procured, and a rude grave was dug on the spot where they had been killed, and, unwashed and uncoffined, ghastly and gory, their bodies were rolled into the one grave together and covered over. Six weeks later, their bodies were taken up by their friends, washed and given a decent burial.
Unparalleled excitement followed these proceedings. The volunteer club scoured the country in every direction to find William K. Bridge, Taylor and David Driscoll, and Bridge barely made his escape. When the Regulators were at his house, he was hidden in an excavation underneath it. When the Regulators had gone, he left his home and fled to Henry, on the Illinois



Page 369

River, in Marshall County, and took refuge with a member of the gang name Redden. The officers, by some means, got on his track and traced him to his hiding place, and found him concealed in the garret of Redden's house, where he was arrested and brought back. He was taken before William J. Mix, a justice of the peace, for examination as being accessory to the murder of John Campbell, but, for want of sufficient evidence, was discharged.
Taylor Driscoll was arrested some years later, and brought back to Ogle County, where he was indicted for the murder of John Campbell. A change of venue was granted, and the case was sent to McHenry County. On the first trial, the jury disagreed, and a new one was granted. On the second trial, the court allowed the defendant's counsel a wide latitude in the cross examination of witnesses for the prosecution, especially of Mrs. Campbell, who was a nervous, irritable woman, and they worried her into statements that so injured the case that Driscoll was acquitted.
David Driscoll also left the state, and thus avoided arrest.
The measures thus inaugurated to free the country from the dominion of outlaws was a last, desperate resort, but it seemed to be the only remedy left to the settlers. Many of those engaged in the execution of John and William Driscoll, father and son, became wealthy and respected, and are now among the most influential citizens of the county.
The communities where courts of law are permanently established; where society is well organized, and officers of the law sustained in the execution of the laws made for the protection of society and the punishment of crime and criminals, the action of the settlers in organizing themselves as Vigilantes or Regulators, and the measures they inaugurated to free themselves from the dominion and presence of the law-defying terror-inspiring and crime stained combination against whom their work of extermination was direct, may seem harsh and cruel. But it should be remembered that, so numerous had the outlaws become, it was impossible to enforce the laws against them. Some of their members were justices of the peace; some were constables, and none of the early grand and petit juries were free from their presence. The first sheriff of the county was a sympathizer with, if not an actual member of the clan. Under such circumstances the honest settlers were completely at the mercy, and within their power, so far as the execution of the law against them was concerned. So bold, indeed, did they become, that Judge Ford subsequently governor of the state), previous to the organization of the settlers as Vigilantes, felt constrained to admonish them from the bench. The occasion when this language was used was on the trial of Norton B. Royce, for counterfeiting, at the March term of the circuit court 1841. After sentence had been pronounced against Royce, Judge Ford said: "I am going away on business, and will be obliged to leave my family behind me. If the desperadoes dare to injure them I am gone, I will come back, call my neighbors together, and follow them until I have overtaken them, when the first tree shall be their gallows; and if the injury is done while I am on the bench trying a case, I will leave the bench and follow them up until they are exterminated."
Such language as this from a judge on the bench assured the honest people in their earnest purpose of extermination. There were some people then, however, as there have been some writers since, that sought to array the public sentiment of the country and of the courts against the subsequent action of the Regulators in their arrest, trial, conviction, sentence and execution

Page 370

of the Driscolls, and to cast upon them the odium of outlaws and murderers; but the court, to which the Regulators, to the number of one hundred and twelve men, submitted their action, under indictment, and before which they were fairly and impartially tried, acquitted them. Prosperity and thrift have attended them ever since; they have the respect and confidence of all classes of society, at home and abroad; their honesty and obedience to law are unquestioned and undoubted, so that whatever the efforts of the sympathizers with the Driscolls as to their sudden and disgraceful taking off, and with their two victims of the lash, Hurl and Daggett, the Regulators are fully and proudly vindicated.
The killing of the Driscolls was not the end. It was only the beginning of the work of extermination, although it was the first and last instance where such desperate measures were considered necessary to accomplish their purpose.
Among those who took exceptions to the work of the Regulators, was Mr. P. Knappen, editor of the Rockford Star. In an editorial article under date July 1, 1841, Mr. Knappen said:
"A short time since we received through the post office a copy of the proceedings of the Ogle County Lynchers, up to the latest date, embracing the following resolution:
"Resolved, that the proceedings of their Volunteer Company be published in their Rockford newspaper once a month."
"Now, be it known to all the world that we have solemnly resolved that the proceedings of the Ogle County, or any county volunteer lynch company cannot be justified or encouraged in our columns. The view we take of the subject does not permit us to approve the measures and conduct of the said company. If two or three hundred citizens are to assume the administration of lynch law in the face and eyes of the law of the land, we shall soon have a fearful state of things, and where, we ask, will it end if mob law is to supersede the civil law? If it is tolerated, no man's life or property is safe; his neighbor, who may be more popular than himself, will possess an easy, ready way to be revenged by misrepresentation and false accusation; in short, of what avail are our legislative bodies and their enactments? We live in a land of laws, and to them it becomes us to resort and submit for the punishment and redress as faithful keepers of the laws, and thus extend to each other the protection and advantages of the law, and repulse every attempt to deprive a fellow citizen of the precious privilege granted in all civilized countries - namely, the right to be tried by an impartial jury of twelve good men of his county. But, perhaps, it will be argued by some, that we have n this new country no means or proper places for securing offenders and breakers of the law, to which we answer, then build them. The time already spent by three or four hundred men in this and Ogle Counties, at three or four different times, and from two to four days at a time, this season, would have built jails so strong that no man, or dozen men on earth, deprived of implements with which to work, and confined in them, could ever escape, and guard them sufficiently strong by armed men outside, to prevent assistance from rescuing them from the arm of the law. Would not this course by much more patriotic and creditable to the citizens of a civilized and Christianized country, than to resort to the administration of mob law by Judge Lynch? Nor on us, gentlemen, but on your own heads be the responsibility; we wash our hands clear from the blood of lynch law."

Page 371

In the same number of the Star, from which the above is quoted, there appeared two communications - one signed Vox Populi, taking strong grounds against the actions of the Regulators, pronouncing them a "Banditti," etc. This writer says: "Banditti like, after organization, these fiends in human shape, commenced traversing the country for plunder - not, perhaps, valuable goods, but the LIBERTY and LIVES of their fellow citizens! Everyone who happened to fall under the suspicion of one or more of this gang was at once brought before their self-constituted tribunal, where there was no difficulty in procuring testimony for convicting him of any crime named, when he was sentenced, and men appointed to inflict the adjudged punishment, which in the embryo existence of the "Clan", generally consisted in giving the culprit from twenty to three hundred lashes well laid on.
* * * * * * * No one pretends that John and William Driscoll had committed murder, nor can they say that they merited the punishment they received, even had they been found guilty by an impartial jury of their country of the crime alleged by the mob. No; had unimpeachable testimony been brought to prove them guilty of that for which circumstantial evidence was horribly distorted to convict them, the penalty would have been but three to five years imprisonment in the penitentiary." * * * * *
And had it come to this, that in a land of civilization and Christianity, blessed with as wholesome a code of laws as man's ingenuity ever invented, a few desperadoes shall rise up and inflict all manner of punishment, even DEATH, upon whomsoever they please? Shall all Civil Law be sacrificed and trampled in the dust at the shrine of Mobocracy? Shall the life and property of no one receive any protection from the civil law, but both be subject to the nod of an inconsiderate and uncontrollable mob? Shall these things be so? Or will the people rise en masse, and assert the laws of the land, and enforce the same against the murderers and lynchers? The latter course is certainly pointed out by JUSTICE, and I trust in God that justice will be meted out to all who have had a hand in this bloody business."
The second communication to which reference is made above, was signed "B", bore the date July 1, 1841, and sustained the action of the Regulators. It was generally credited to Mr. Latimer, the attorney, who made such a violent address on the occasion of the killing of the Driscolls. He subsequently moved to Lancaster, Grant County, Wisconsin, where he was killed in a street fight with a gambler.
The Star editorial already quoted, and the communication of Vox Populi, only maddened the Regulators the more, and a few nights after the paper containing these articles was issued, the office was entered by unknown parties and the type in forms and cases "pied" - that is, turned out on the floor promiscuously, and the entire office reduced to q pile of ruins. Knappen's hopes were blasted, and he shortly sold the wreck to John A. Brown, who rescued the material from confusion, and the publication of a paper called the Pilot was commenced.
Murders, robberies and kindred crimes, did not stop with the killing of the Driscolls and the sacking of the Star office. Outrages continued, and the people came to live in almost uninterrupted fear and alarm. Without entering into a detailed specification of the repeated outrages, robberies, etc., we will enumerate a few of the boldest in the order of their occurence:
On the night of 18 December, 1843, the store of William McKinney, in Rockford, was entered and plundered of a truck containing between $700 and $800. A brother of McKinney was sleeping

Page 372

in the store. He was awakened by the noise made by the midnight prowlers, and attempting to oppose the robber, who called him by name, he was awed into silence and non-resistance by a knife that was placed against his breast, the thief remarking that he "must have the trunk containing the money, as he could not afford to run such a risk for nothing." He got the trunk and escaped and eluded capture.
Scarcely had the excitement created by this bold robbery died away, when the community was again startled by the perpetration of a bolder one still. This robbery was committed on one of Frink, Walker & Co.'s four horse mail coaches, about four miles out of Rockford towards Chicago, while, as it is stated, the coach was actually in motion and full of passengers, but was not discovered until the coach arrived at Newburgh. The following morning the trunks and baggage were found a few rods from the road, broken open and rifled of all their valuables. A newspaper published at Rockford at the time, in speaking of this robbery said: "What renders these transactions still more exciting, is the fact that they are committed by those who are perfect scholars in the business and movements of the town." No immediate clue to this last robbery was obtained.
This stage robbery was followed a few weeks later by another one fully as daring. In this instance, the house of William Mulford, in Guilford Township, was entered in the night time, and while a party of the gang stood guard over Mr. & Mrs. Mulford, who had gone to bed, the others ransacked the house, and found about $400, which they carried way. It had been rumored that Mulford had received some $15,000 from New York a short time before, and this rumor had reached the ears of the gang. But luckily, if such sum had been received; it was so carefully secreted as to be beyond discovery by the robbers. The alarm was given next morning, and although the country was hunted over for miles, no track of the desperadoes could be found, and in a short time this robbery was almost forgotten in the series of depredations that followed - all so perfectly planned and carried out, that detection and discovery seemed impossible. But argus-eyed Nemesis was on their track.
The killing of the Driscolls was one step towards freeing the country from desperadoes. But many other steps were necessary before the work would be fully completed. In the early part of the Summer of 1845, Charles West, of the firm of "Bliss, Dewey, West & Co."" of whom mention has heretofore been made, became offended at the gang. Taking advantage of this circumstance , certain respectable people in the immediate neighborhood of the Bliss and Dewey rendezvous, succeeded in prevailing upon West to reveal the names of the gang, and a number of them were soon afterwards arrested. Among some of the most prominent and active members of the gang were Charles Oliver, Jr., and Wm. McDowell, of Rockford; Sutton, alias Fox, Birth, the "boss" thief of the gang, and who was known from one end of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers to the other by the several aliases of Harris, Haynes and Brown; Bridge, Davis, Thomas Aiken, and Baker. Besides, there were a number of other revelations made by West, was the plan, as well as the names of the parties, who robbed McKinney's store in Rockfofrd.
To complete the history of the chain of circumstances that led to the arrest, trial, conviction and sentence of a number of the gang, it is necessary to refer to the following circumstance, an important one in this connection:

Page 373

A member of the a, whose name has not been forgotten, had fallen under suspicion of his confederates as not being of the "right stripe", and, to relieve the organization of his membership, some of the fraternity in Bureau County, the home of the suspected member, preferred a charge of horse stealing against him, and secured his arrest and imprisonment in the jail at Princeton. During his incarceration, he revealed sundry and divers secrets of the gang to the sheriff of Bureau County. Among these secrets was a full account of the Mulford robbery, and the names of the parties engaged in its perpetration, which had been reported to him by another member of the confederacy named Irving A. Stearns. Shortly after that affair Stearns went up into Michigan, where he soon got himself into the penitentiary for horse stealing. These revelations were communicated to the Winnebago authorities, and they made arrangements to secure the presence of the informer before the grand jury of that county for the Spring term, 1845, of the circuit court. For this purpose, a night session of the grand jury was held, and, upon the evidence of this man, indictments were found against Charles Oliver and William McDowell, of Winnebago County, and William K. Bridge, of Ogle County, for committing the Mulford robbery. The same night arrangements were made for the arrest of Oliver and McDowell. At that particular time, the sheriff of Winnebago County was absent from home. There was no deputy, and the coroner, next in authority to the sheriff, was the father-in-law of McDowell, which fact rendered him an unsafe person to be entrusted with the arrest of Oliver and McDowell. Under the law, in those days, two justices of the peace could appoint an officer to act in cases of emergency, where there was no sheriff, or in the absence of that officer. Acting under this law, Chauncy Burton and Willard Wheeler, justices of the peace, were called up out of bed, and Mr. Goodyear A. Sanford, the last preceding sheriff, was appointed to make the arrest. By this time the night was well-nigh gone, and as the affair had been kept perfectly quiet, their arrest was deferred till the next day, when Mr. Sanford took them into custody without difficulty. Soon after, Bridge was also arrested at his home on Ogle County, and taken up to Rockford. The news of these important arrests, and of the finding of the indictments under which they were made, rekindled the old embers of excitement, and it was determined that no bail ought to be offered or accepted for the release of these parties, but that they should be held in close custody until they could be tried in the circuit court. The murder of Col. Davenport, a month later, July 4, 1845, added fresh fury to the indignation of the people, and it is a matter of wonder that the same fate was not visited upon them, that had been meted out to the Driscolls.
From the time of the Mulford robbery Jason Marsh, of Rockford, had been actively and industriously engaged in working up a case, and attempting to ferret out the robbers. Taking his cue from the sworn evidence upon which the indictments against Oliver, McDowell and Bridge were founded, coupled with the statements previously made by Charles West, of "Bliss, Dewey, West & Co.", he visited the Michigan penitentiary, where he found the man Stearns, who corroborated all, and more that all, stated by West, and sworn to by his old confederate in crime. Marsh made arrangements to secure the pardon of Stearns, in order to use him as a witness against Oliver, McDowell and Bridge, and then returned to Rockford to complete preparation for the trial.
The trial of this case commenced August 26, 1845, before Judge Thomas C. Browne,

Page 374

presiding, and excited an interest and an attendance that was never equaled in the history of the Rock River country. Even the trial of Alfred Countryman, in February 1857, for the murder, by shooting, of Sheriff John Taylor, of Winnebago County, on the 11th day of November, 1856, failed to attract the attention or to create the excitement consequent upon the trial of Charles Oliver, probably, for the reason of the large number of crimes that had been committed and the belief that the prisoner was a ruling spirit, if not the 'head centre," of the notorious confederacy of thieves that infested the country.
From the time of his arrest, Oliver assumed and maintained an air of boldness and manifest indifference. He assured his friends of his ability to establish his innocence of the charges preferred in the indictment. As the time for the trial came on, Mr. Marsh had gone back to Michigan, completed arrangements for the pardon of Stearns, and returned with him to Rockford, where he was kept in close concealment until the court was ready to receive his testimony, his presence in Rockford, and the means taken to secure his presence there, being entirely unknown and unsuspected by both Oliver and McDowell. The Mulford robbery had been so carefully planned and secretly managed that Oliver felt sure of acquittal. The only witness whom he had occasion to fear was Stearns, whom he supposed to be in the Michigan prison, little suspecting that the sworn testimony of one of his former subordinates and slaves was at hand to convict and sentence him to an imprisonment from which the latter had just been pardoned.
When the court was ready to receive the testimony of Stearns, that witness was smuggled in to the courtroom in the midst of a number of other men, and so seated as to be concealed from the prisoner when he was brought in, which followed soon after. Oliver came in chatting and laughing with his attendants as if he were only an ordinary spectator, instead of a prisoner on trial for high crimes and misdemeanors. When court was opened and the names of witnesses for the prosecution were called, the name of "Irving A. Stearns" fell with startling distinctness upon the ears of the hitherto defiant Oliver. His face turned deathly pale, and he sat trembling and crestfallen by the side of his counsel. Courage and hope fled together.
Stearns testified that the secrets of the Mulford robbery had been imparted to him by Oliver, and that Oliver had offered him some of the stolen money in exchange fro a horse, telling him at the same time where and how the money was obtained. His evidence was direct and unequivocal, and a rigid cross-examination failed to weaken it in any degree.
West, who was also present as a witness for the people, testified that Oliver planned the robbery, and that, although he (Oliver) was not present when the robbery was committed, he admitted to witness that he received a share of the stolen money. As in the evidence of Stearn, a sharp cross-examination failed to bring out any contradictory statements, and Oliver was found guilty and sentenced to the penitentiary at Alton for a term of eight years. At the end of five years he was pardoned out, and rejoined his wife and family in New York. A few years later he visited Rockford and mingled quite freely with the people among whom he had once been so popular, and to some of whom he explained why the gang had not robbed more of them. To Goodyear A. Sanford he said: "The boys often wanted to go for you (as county treasurer) but I wouldn't let them, because you was such a clever fellow."

Page 375

McDowell was convicted a little later in the course of time, and was also sentenced for eight years, but like his old leader in crime, was pardoned at the end of five years and went to work as a carpenter at Alton, where he was still living at last account.
Bridge took a change of venue to Ogle County, pleaded guilty, and where he was sentenced to the penitentiary. After his release, he went to Iowa, where, reports say, he fell into his old vices, and was finally killed.
Three of the Aiken boys, Charles, Richard and Thomas, who were named in the course of this chapter, went "to the bad" but escaped the penitentiary. Charles died at his home at Washington Grove in 1841, from (as it was reported from two sources) the effects of a terrible whipping administered by the people of Fort Madison, Iowa, against whom he had offended. The rumor came from there that, after he was whipped he was tied to a log of wood and thrown into the Mississippi River. How he escaped from drowning was never known, but he managed to reach home more dead than alive, linger there a few days, suffering the most agonizing tortures of mind and body, and then went down to a disgraceful and dishonorable grave. It was said by some of those who were present to offer the last humane duty of preparing his remains for burial, that his body was literally cut into gashes from his shoulders to his heels.
Richard Aikens died the same year from sickness contracted from exposure while hiding by day and by night from the regulators and law officers.
After the killing of the Driscolls, Thomas Aikens, who had become fully identified with the prairie pirates, was not seen much in the country. His movements were governed by the gang with whom he had cast his fortunes. In 183 Aikens, Burch, Fox and one or two others, stole some horses in Warren County and fled Northward. The people of Warren County got on their track and followed their trail to the home of Aikens at Lafayette Grove, where the thieves had stopped for a rest and refreshments, and where they were captured. They were taken back to Warren County, where they were charged with stealing horses, and were held to answer. In the absence of bail they were committed to jail, but managed to escape in a short time and left the country. Rumor says that Thomas Aikens went out on the frontier and located far up on the Missouri River, where he settled down to industrious pursuits, becoming the owner of a good farm, and to all appearances was leading an honest life. These last statements, however, regarding his whereabouts and his pursuits, are founded altogether upon rumor, as no direct and positive knowledge of him was ever had after his escape from the Warren County jail.
The father, Samuel Aikens, died at Washington Grove in 1847. No charge of dishonesty was ever laid at the old mans door, but the unlawful and disgraceful lives into which his three eldest sons were drawn, brought a taint upon the family name, and to a certain extent they were proscribed in society. His youngest son, Samuel, died of consumption about 1854.
In the Fall of 1839 the Brodie family removed to Linn County, Iowa, where most of them continued to reside at last direct accounts.
Adolph Bliss, Corydon Dewey and another man named Sawyer (the last name mentioned before), were all sentenced from the Lee Circuit Court, about 1845 or 1846, to the penitentiary for the robbery of an old man of the Inlet Grove neighborhood, by the name of Haskel. Their terms of
Page 376

sentence ranged from three to five years. Bliss died in the penitentiary. Dewey outlived his term, and returned to his home and settled down on his old farm. Sawyer also served out his time, and likewise returned home, re-engaged in farming, and is supposed to be still living in that neighborhood.
Pierce Driscoll, who was arrested but acquitted the same day his father and brother were killed, subsequently removed to Cook County, Illinois, where he is said to have settled down to an honest, industrious life, acquiring a very handsome competency. The remained of the family scattered to different parts of the country - some to California, some to Minnesota, and some to unknown localities.
Three of the pirates, John Long, Aaron Long and Granville Young - who engaged in the murder of Colonel Davenport, at Rock Island, July 4, 1845, were hunted down, arrested, brought back, tried, found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. The execution of the sentence was carried out at Rock Island on the 19th day of October, 1845, which completed the work of extermination commenced by the Ogle County Regulators on Tuesday the 29th day of June A. D. 1841.
Martin Campbell, the heroic boy, who only thirteen years of age when he attempted to fire upon his father's murderers, grew to be a good and useful man, and still remains in White Rock Township, within sight of the place of his father's murder, a successful farmer and happy husband and father.

INDICTMENT, TRIAL AND ACQUITTAL OF THE REGULATORS FOR THE MURDER OF THE DRISCOLLS.

At the September term of the circuit court, 1841, an indictment was found against Jonathan W. Jenkins and one hundred and eleven others, charging them with the murder of John Driscoll and William Driscoll, on the 29th day of June 1841. The case was entitled "The People v. Jonathan W. Jenkins, Seth A. King, George D. Johnson, Commodore P. Bridge, Moses Nettleton, James Clark, Lyman Morgan, William Keys, Wilson Daily, John H. Stevenson, Zebulon Burroughs, Andrew H. Hart, John V. Gale, George W. Phelps, Benjamin T. Phelps, John Phelps, James C. Phelps, William Wooley, William Knight, Moses T. Crowell, Jacob B. Crist, Edwin S. Leland, John S. Lord, Caleb Williamson, Caleb S. Marshall, Philip Spraker, Richard Chaney, Simeon S. Crowell, James W. Johnson, Alanson Morgan, Augustus Austin, John Austin, Thomas Stinson, Charles Fletcher, Aaron Payne, Spowk Wellington, Jeremiah Payne, James Scott, Mason Taylor, Harvey Jewett, John Oyster, Phineas Chaney, Richard Hayes, Obed Lindsay, Amos Rice, Erastus Rice, Sumner Brown, Jr., James D. Sandford, Jacob Wickizer, George Young, Thomas O. Young, Osburn Chaney, Rolf Chaney, Annas Lucas, Peter Smith, Henry Hill, David D. Edington, Andrew Keith, John B. Long, Orrin B. Smith, David Shumway, Horace Miller, John F. Smith, Charles Latimer, Jason Marsh, Perlet S. Shumway, Alfred M. Jarboe, Fransis Emerson, Thomas Emerson, Abel Smith, Eliphalet Allen, James Baker, Jarvis C. Baker, Joseph Jewell, Charles Abbott, Sidney M. Layton, M. Perry Kerr, James Harpham, John Coffman, Anthony Pitzer, Jonas Shoffstalt, Jacob m. Myers, Samuel Mitchell, John Harmon, John Cooley, William Dewey, William Wallace, Robert Davis, James Stewart, David Wagner, Aaron Billig, Joseph M. Reynolds, John Kerr, James Stewart, David Wagner, Aaron Billig, Joseph M. Reynolds, John Kerr, James Hatch, Alhanon W. Rinker, david Potter, Martin Rhodeamon, Ralsamon Thomas, Benjamin Worden, John McCallister, John beedle, Ephraham Vaughn, Justus Merrifield, Elias Vaughn, John Adams, Israel Robertson and George W. Kinney. Indictment for murder.

Page 379

The case was called for trial at the same term of court, Judge Ford presiding, at which the indictment was found. Seth B. Farwell appeared for the people, and Messr, Peters, Dodge, Champlin and Caton for the defendants. The jury before whom they were tried was composed of S. S. Beatty, S. M. hit, James C. Hagan, Elias Baker, William Carpenter, John Shoffstalt, James B. McCoy, George Swingley, Richard McLean, William Renner, Justin Hitchcock and Hiram Weldon - S. M. Hitt, foreman. When arraigned for trial the defendants pleaded not guilty, and the trial proceeded. The most of the time occupied in the disposition of the case was consumed in calling the names of the defendants. Several witnesses were called on the part of the prosecution, but no direct evidence was adduced, and after a brief address by Prosecutor Farwell, for the people, and John D. Caton, on behalf of the defendants,t he case went to the jury, and without leaving their seats the jury returned a verdict of "not guilty".
The grand jury that found the indictment under which "Jonathan W. Jenkins and one hundred and eleven others" were tried for the murder of John and William Driscoll, was made up of the following named citizens:
Anthony Petzer, John Price, Moses T. Crowell, Jacob Meyers, John Fridley, John Carpenter, Samuel Patrick, Phelan Parker, Andrew H. Holt, C. S. Marshall, George Taylor, Samuel C. Cotton, Leonard Andrews, Rodolphus Brown, Robert Wilson, Philip Spracker, James V. Gale and C. Burr Artz. James V. Gale was the foreman.
As will be seen by a comparison of the names of these jurymen with the names of the defendants, some of their own number were indicted for complicity in that tragedy. The jury met in a small building then belonging to an attorney named John Chaney, and was afterwards occupied by him as a dwelling. The building still stands on the old site, but has fallen into dilapidation and decay. When Chaney removed west he sold the property, and it now belongs to the H. A. Mix estate.
When the case was presented for consideration, together with a list of the names of those charged with being engaged "in the affair, the name of a juryman, the juryman was excused, for the time being, and asked to retire. When he had gone from the room, the allegement was duly examined and disposed of, and the juryman recalled. The next name was then called, and the same mode of procedure observed, until the entire list was completed, and which resulted in the indictment of one hundred and twelve men for the murder of the Driscolls - the largest number of men ever indicted under one charge at one session of a grand jury known to judicial history.

BURNING OF THE COURT HOUSE.

Sunday night, March 21, 1841, the first court house commenced in Ogle County, which was nearing completion - in fact, was so far completed as to be in a condition to be used for the sitting of that term of the court, which was to commence on Monday, March 22 - was burned to the ground. Several indictments were pending for trial, and six of the indicted parties were in jail awaiting the sitting of the court. All day Sunday the town was full of men known to belong to the Prairie Pirates, evidently watching the movements of the court officers - the clerk, the sheriff, etc. Mr. B. T. Phelps,

Page 380

at that time Clerk of the Circuit Court, kept the books and papers of the office at his residence. On Sunday evening he loaded the records on a wheelbarrow, and started to remove them to the court house to have them in readiness when court was called the next morning. When part of the way from his house, he was met by Mr. E. R. Dodge, a lawyer of Ottawa, who could not find accommodations at the hotel because of its crowded condition, and who was on his way to Phelps' residence to claim his hospitality for the night. Luckily, Mr. Phelps did not come on to the court house with the records, but turned back with Mr. Dodge, taking the papers back with him and storing them away in his house.
About midnight the alarm of the fire was raised, and the citizens found their new court house in flames that were so far under headway that it was impossible to stay their progress, and it was burned to the ground.
Hugh Ray, who lives two miles distant from Oregon City, had been employed on the court house when it was in the course of erection, and commenced to sleep in the building as soon as it was far enough advanced to afford sufficient protection from the elements without. He was not awakened until the flames were well started, and barely escaped with his life, his clothing, tools, etc., being left as sacrifices to the devouring element and the vengeance of the Prairie Pirates.
When the citizens reached the burning building they found the prisoners already up, dressed and apparently watching and waiting for their "hour of delivery". But it came not. The flames did not reach the jail, although it stood but a few rods from the burning court house. It was the belief of the citizens at the time, and the belief was afterwards verified by the confessions or admissions of some members of the gang, that the building was fired by the buccaneers under the opinion that the court records had been deposited there by Phelps on Sunday evening, as he had started to do, and that it was their purpose to destroy the indictment against their confederates, and, in the excitement and confusion consequent upon the fire, also secure the release of their imprisoned co-workers in iniquity, but their purpose was abandoned.
The sitting of the court was not deferred, but was held in a building belonging to William Sanderson that then stood on the site now occupied by the Catholic Church. The building was subsequently removed and was afterwards used by Christian Layman, and was known as the "red wagon shop" until it was made to give way before the march of improvements.


HOME

©Genealogy Trails